The most recent paroxysm in the swine flu saga begs some interesting questions which scarcely ought to be swept aside. Last week veteran Australian scientist, Adrian Gibbs, author of 250 peer review studies raised the issue whether H1N1 virus could have been created in a lab error. Of course, denials were rapid. ABC News reported (HERE.)
“"Technically it's plausible but not likely," (said) Christopher Ohl, an associate professor of medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and a specialist in infectious diseases.
“"In this case I'm not concerned that this virus represents anything other than a naturally occurring mixture of viruses happening in nature," concluded Dr. Julie Gerberding, an infectious disease expert and the former director of the CDC...
“Regardless of the validity of Gibb's claims, he and several experts say that just bringing the idea of laboratory security to the public's attention is important.
“ "There are lives at risk," Gibbs said. "The sooner this idea gets out, the better."
“In 2001, foot-and-mouth disease led to the slaughter of more than 6 million animals, all after a vial went missing from a research laboratory in the United Kingdom.
“Since then, however, experts said lab security and regulations have been getting tighter and better.
“"Laboratories have a lot of security from having this happen, and it's very unlikely," Ohl said of the new theory about swine flu's origin.”
But have things improved since 2001? Probably the scariest story this year has so far been overlooked by the media at large. On February 27 an article appeared in the Toronto Sun by Helen Branwell, ‘Baxter: Product contained live bird flu virus’ (HERE.)
“The company that released contaminated flu virus material from a plant in Austria confirmed Friday that the experimental product contained live H5N1 avian flu viruses.
“And an official of the World Health Organization’s European operation said the body is closely monitoring the investigation into the events that took place at Baxter International’s research facility in Orth-Donau, Austria.
““At this juncture we are confident in saying that public health and occupational risk is minimal at present,” medical officer Roberta Andraghetti said from Copenhagen, Denmark.
““But what remains unanswered are the circumstances surrounding the incident in the Baxter facility in Orth-Donau.”
“The contaminated product, a mix of H3N2 seasonal flu viruses and unlabelled H5N1 viruses, was supplied to an Austrian research company. The Austrian firm, Avir Green Hills Biotechnology, then sent portions of it to sub-contractors in the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Germany.
“The contamination incident, which is being investigated by the four European countries, came to light when the subcontractor in the Czech Republic inoculated ferrets with the product and they died. Ferrets shouldn’t die from exposure to human H3N2 flu viruses...”
According to science columnist Mark Henderson writing in the London Times on May 4, the real danger from the new swine flu virus H1N1 would be if it combined with the previous big viral scare, avian flu H5N1:
"The biggest worry would be if a person or a pig became infected with both swine flu and H5N1 avian flu at the same time. As the former is highly transmissible but does not appear to be particularly lethal, while the latter is highly virulent but does not spread easily, a reassortment between the two could generate a very dangerous strain."
Of course, it would not be wise on its own to take anything Henderson says too seriously, bearing in mind his boss is a director of pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (HERE) and he is associated with the pharmaceutical lobby organisation Sense About Science (HERE.) However, bearing in mind the Toronto Sun story of February it is not exactly encouraging that WHO and the CDC have chosen Baxter as well as GlaxoSmithKline to develop a vaccine against H1N1 (HERE.)
So many aspects of these stories are not re-assuring. There have been no further reports on the Baxter bird flu fiasco since February, which at best sounds like criminal negligence of a high order – meanwhile the WHO and CDC remain silent. Health officials have failed to deny that the swine flu virus could have been created in a laboratory, but merely claim that such a security lapse is unlikely, when we know a much worse one occurred within the last 3 months. And Julie Gerberding, out-going director of CDC, fails to deny that swine flu is man-made but only tells us that she is “not concerned”.
John Stone, based in London, is a Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.